You never know what can serve as a catalyst for a turning point in your life. Something that occurs that influences you to change the course of your life.
In the case of Mark White, lead civil engineer technician U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District Panama City site office, Florida, it happened to be cold weather and a rake.
White, who will retire after approximately 40 years of federal service, said the cold and the rake played a crucial role in how his life eventually turned out.
In January of 1984, White was a Student Aid employee with USACE at the Panama City office doing maintenance and yard work. He was making $3.35 an hour and he was struggling. The cold weather and the cold rake didn’t help matters much.
“It was a cold winter and the work outside was rough,” White said. “I was raking the front yard one day and after a while my hands had frozen to the shape of the rake handle. I went inside to run warm water over my hands to thaw them out. At that moment I made the decision that something had to change. I was tired of struggling with college and knew I didn’t want to do maintenance and yard work for a living. It was a pivotal day in my life.”
White said he would stop by the drafting room from time-to-time and thought that he could do what they were doing. After speaking with the crew in the drafting room he felt encouraged to speak with the area engineer, Alton Colvin about his situation and see if he could help him out.
“I made my case to Mr. Colvin and told him that college was out of picture and if he did not give me this chance in the drafting room, I was going to sign up for the military that week,” White said. “Later that day he told me he was willing to give me a chance. He instructed me to go and sign up for the drafting course at Haney Technical Center to get the drafting skills I needed. Hen then told me the Corps would teach me what is needed to perform the engineering and surveying duties. That day was the beginning of my career.”
From that day to the present, White has spent his time at the Panama City site office.
One person who is going to be sad to see White go is Waylon Register, USACE Panama City site manager. Register said White has been a co-worker for more than20 years, and he has also been a valued colleague.
“Mark has been a trusted friend ever since I met him over 20 years ago when I began my own career as a GS-5 intern,” Register said. “His rise from where he began to leading our office staff is a testament to his competence and leadership abilities. He embodies the Army values of honor and integrity in all his actions and serves as an example and role model to the survey trainees we have today. Through his demonstrated empathy and caring for his team, he’s very much the “heart” of the office and is highly respected and will be highly missed by everyone in our office. His size 15 shoes will be difficult to fill indeed.”
Another person who is going to hate to see White retire is Nelson Sanchez, USACE Mobile District Operations chief.
Sanchez said that he has known White for more than 30 years and that in that time he was always willing help others accomplish the mission.
“I have known Mark White since 1990 when I first came to Mobile,” Sanchez said. “He was one of our experts in surveying and assisted in quality assurance for dredging at the Panama City site office. He was always willing to assist others to learn new technologies as it related to processing hydrographic surveys. He is truly a gentleman and a great professional. The Panama City site office, the Mobile District Operations team and I will truly miss him. I wish him luck and joy with his retirement.”
White said one of the main reasons he stayed in Panama City his whole career is that it always felt like home. He said he still feels that way after all these years, even as he prepares to depart.
“The reason I’ve stayed here is because it feels like it’s where I belong,” White said. “The atmosphere has always seemed like family to me. I have many stories and experiences from the years I worked here, some good, some not so good. I owe a lot to the people that supported me and the opportunities to learn and advance in my career through the Corps. There have been challenging times, but like life itself, you have to put in the work to achieve your goals. I am grateful to Mr. Colvin, because he didn’t have to give me the chance he did. I will always be thankful to him and our Father in Heaven, from where all blessings come from.”